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THE SITUATION ROOM
Protesters March Near Synagogue as Trump Visits. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired October 30, 2018 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Our coverage on CNN continues right after this. You can follow me on Facebook, on Twitter, @JakeTapper or @TheLead. Thanks for watching.
[17:00:13] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now. Breaking news. Unwelcome visitor. Local and state officials and congressional leaders are steering clear of the president as he visits Pittsburgh on the same day as the first funerals are held for victims of the slaughter at the synagogue. And protesters have taken to the streets, telling the president he's not welcome.
Closing on racism? The president is taking heat for his incendiary rhetoric and race -- on race and immigration. Is he closing his midterm campaign by deliberately trying to incite passions among hardliners? Could he be inciting violence?
Stone's calls. Special Counsel Robert Mueller has been quiet ahead of the midterm elections, but he's reportedly been focused on long-time Trump ally Roger Stone and conference calls in which Stone discussed WikiLeaks.
And gangster killed in jail. A notorious former Boston mob boss is killed in a federal prison where he was serving two life terms. Whitey Bulger, who terrorized the city for decades, eluded authorities for 16 years before he was caught, tried and sentenced for crimes, including 11 murders.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: As the first funerals are held for victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre, President Trump, over the objections of the mayor, visits the city and stopped at the synagogue, meeting with the rabbi. Local and state officials have declined to appear with him, and top congressional leaders turned down invitations from the White House. But protesters are out in force.
For the president, this was a rare off day from the campaign trail, where he's accused of stirring up hatred with incendiary rhetoric, including new false claims on immigration.
I'll speak with the Pittsburgh city council member, Corey O'Connor, and Congressman Eric Swalwell of the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees. But first, let's go to Kaitlan Collins. She's over there near the
synagogue, where the president is with the first lady right now, laying stones on some of the memorials.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, you can see the president and first lady just exited the entrance of the synagogue, where they were lighting a candle with the rabbi inside. They couldn't go all the way into the synagogue, because it is still an active crime scene. We've seen the FBI going in and out all day.
And now there they are right there. They are standing next to these stars. There are these white stars out here, Wolf, each bearing one of the names of the 11 victims that were shot here on Saturday. And you can see there are flowers, balloons, signs that we've seen from people coming to pay their respects throughout the day. Tearful members of this community.
And now the president and the first lady are here laying these stones as is custom, paying their respects. And then we are told, Wolf, by the White House they're going to lay white roses next to these stars, as well.
This is the first stop the president has made since he got down here in Pittsburgh. It was unclear all day what exactly his schedule was going to be, besides the fact that he said he did want to meet with first responders. And now he is here meeting, laying these stones, paying their respects.
Wolf, one thing I do want to note, we saw these protesters here earlier today in the community, protesting the president's visit. And from where we are right outside the synagogue, we can actually hear them from down the street. We can't see them, but we started to hear them as soon as the president, the first lady, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner went inside with one of the rabbis to light that candle about ten minutes ago.
And now that they're out here paying their respects, speaking with this rabbi, it's quiet, Wolf. We can't exactly hear what they are saying. But you can see the president there reaching forward, placing a Stone on these stars of the victims that were shot here on Saturday.
BLITZER: And it is a Jewish tradition to lay stones. Usually on the tombstones of those who have just been buried, and then go every year and lay stones. Once again, these stones are permanent. Flowers are important. They're very nice, but they don't last all that long. A stone lasts for a long time. It's a long-standing Jewish tradition, going back centuries. And that's why they're doing this.
And the president is clearly, Kaitlan, being walked through a lot of these Jewish traditions by his daughter and son-in-law, both of whom are Jewish. Jared Kushner, an orthodox Jew.
COLLINS: That's right. And they were actually the ones who told the president on Saturday after the first reports of this had happened had come out. They were the ones who encouraged the president to come and make a visit to Pittsburgh, to come and show the community. And also, Wolf, you'll see standing next to Ivanka Trump there is the
treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin. That is not someone we knew was coming, but he is here on this trip. Also traveling is the Israeli ambassador, Ron Dermer, and Jason Greenblatt. Several other members of the administration who are Jewish also coming with the president.
[17:05:11] Now, Wolf, of course, you can't ignore the backdrop here. This comes as some members of this community did not feel it was appropriate for the president to come and pay his respects at this time.
One of the loudest voices of that and the staunchest voices that we have heard over the last few days was the mayor of Pittsburgh, who said he didn't believe it was appropriate for the president.
And Wolf, we heard that echoed from a few people who were filtering through the street today, coming to pay their respects. Sometimes members of this community tearful and sometimes even family members of those whose lives were lost on Saturday.
So that is one thing that is a backdrop you just can't ignore. That there were some people who did not want President Trump to come at this time.
Now, Wolf, we know inside the White House, they thought this was the most appropriate time for the president to come. He insisted on coming and paying his respects, something he said from Saturday when there were reports of this shooting first happened. And something he's following through on here.
Now, of course, the backdrop of that is later on in the week, the president has several campaign rallies scheduled, and the White House aides didn't feel it would be appropriate for him to come here very -- during a period of grieving and mourning and then later go on to one of those politically-charged rallies. That is why they wanted the president to come to Pittsburgh today, to pay his respects.
BLITZER: And you can see the president and the first lady, they're going -- star of David by star of David, in memory of the 11 who were killed. And you saw the rabbi, Rabbi Jeffrey Myers there, of the Tree of Life Synagogue escorting the president and the first lady as they pay their respects.
They went inside briefly, Kaitlan. They -- a lot of this area is still a crime scene. So there's limited areas where they can go right now. But clearly, the president and the first lady were anxious to pay their respects to the 11 wonderful people who were mass murdered --
COLLINS: Can you keep it down?
BLITZER: -- on Saturday morning, simply as they were praying in the synagogue.
COLLINS: You're not live. Can you please stop? He doesn't have the camera on. BLITZER: All right. So that's -- that's where we stand right now. You can see the president and the first lady. You see Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, as well, the president's son-in-law and daughter, who have accompanied the president. Steve Mnuchin, the treasury secretary, who's also Jewish, joining the president and the first lady, as they pay their respects to the 11 people who have been killed in a brutal, brutal way.
The city has been deeply, deeply torn and in deep anguish as a result of this horrific, horrific act, the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in American history.
Eleven -- 11 people, mostly elderly, very elderly, one 97-year-old woman, simply, they had gone to services, shabbat services early Saturday morning. They were praying. They had their prayer books. They were simply doing what Jews have done for thousands of years when, all of a sudden, a shooter comes in with an AR-15 loaded with ammunition, three Glock pistols, and simply starts shooting and killing.
Six others were injured, including four police officers, two of whom remain in hospital right now.
There you see Jared Kushner. There you see Ivanka Trump, Steve Mnuchin, the treasury secretary, the president and first lady. And I assume Rabbi Myers, who is the rabbi, the spiritual leader, at the Tree of Life Synagogue, is explaining a lot of the Jewish tradition. Also probably telling the president and the first lady something about these 11 wonderful people who were murdered.
Kaitlan, you're there for us. Give us some more details on what else we can anticipate from the president and the first lady.
COLLINS: Well, Wolf, one thing that's been really striking about this visit is who isn't here. When the president landed on Air Force One, he wasn't greeted by several local officials as he typically is on a trip like this, and he didn't travel with any representatives from the state, as he typically does. When he visits Florida or any other state like this, certainly any state that has gone through a tragedy. You can think of times when he's visited states when there have been hurricanes and whatnot. That is something that we didn't see there.
And you can see the first lady, Melania Trump, going, getting back into the motorcade right now. The president still chatting with Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, the rabbi.
But Wolf, none of the -- a lot of local and national officials declined to come visit with the president on this trip today. Some of them said they had scheduling issues. Some said they had already come and paid their respects. But it was a glaringly obvious aspect of this trip that they did not travel with the president.
Now that comes as there was criticism, saying, you know -- many in this community saying this was an ill-timed visit for the president to come here now. It does appear they are getting back in the motorcade. You can see
Jared Kushner there, the president also making his way to the motorcade.
BLITZER: And I think I could hear some protesters in the background over there. How far away are they, Kaitlan?
COLLINS: You can hear the protestors. We can't see them, Wolf. They've got the street blocked off in every direction for about two blocks. That's what we saw earlier when they were preparing for the president's arrival. But you certainly can hear the protesters.
That is really something that shows that this community that is grieving and mourning this loss, this loss of 11 lives, did not feel that it was appropriate for the president to come visit. Something that the White House disagreed with. They felt that this was the only appropriate time for them to come and visit, as well.
Now, they're leaving, Wolf. The White House hasn't told us where they are going next. But we did hear President Trump say he wanted to go to a hospital and visit the first responders and some of the police officers.
Wolf, we know there were several police officers who were shot on Saturday, officers who came and responded to this call and entered into this building, even though there was still an active shooter inside.
The police chief was actually over here earlier, speaking with some people, speaking with some of the people who had come to pay their respects. And he said he really wanted to get all of his officers out of the hospital. That was something that was really important to him as the community was dealing with the aftermath of this tragedy. And that is certainly something that we've seen the president do several times, as well, when he's visited tragedies like this, Wolf.
But Wolf, a lot of this is going to be a big empathy test for the president. That's something he has struggled with throughout his presidency. It makes you think of that time at the Parkland shooting when he had that piece of paper with an aide who had written out instructions saying, "We can hear you."
But Wolf, we'll see what the outcome of the president's trip here today, something he felt that was very important to come to.
BLITZER: Yes, all right. So Kaitlan, I want you to stand by. Not far away, Miguel Marquez is watching the protests unfolding. Only a few blocks, I take it. Miguel, set the scene for us.
MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're less than a block away here, Wolf. This is the protest. There are several thousand people in this protest. Now, it was one protest, then two and then we got to this area.
You can hear those sirens. That is the president now leaving this area. Protesters have been completely peaceful, but there are several different groups represented here.
I want to show you. Eddie, if you just turn around here. This area, that direction, is where the synagogue is. All of those sirens you can hear are the commotion that law enforcement are making as the president is trying to leave.
It has been completely peaceful, and at this point, it appears that they are actually trying to move these protesters out, which is going to be extraordinarily difficult if they expect to bring the president in this direction. They're trying to back people up.
We have seen little more than tears in this neighborhood today, and it has turned into anger as the day has moved on, as people realized that the president is coming.
This protest wasn't planned at all 24 hours ago. And in the last 24 hours, it has exploded. We weren't sure how many people were going to show up here. There were very few people who had actually signed up to come, and now --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Turn your back and follow the march. Turn your back and follow the march.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Turn your back and follow the march. Turn your back and follow the march.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Turn your back and follow the march. Turn your back and follow the march.
MARQUEZ: -- there are thousands of people on -- here. Look over here, Eddie. Somebody is trying to get -- somebody is being arrested here. There was a large knot of people who moved toward the synagogue, which is about a block away, and were trying to get through the police cordon.
You can see the police cars now trying to move the crowd back. The crowd itself, they are chanting, "Turn your backs."
BLITZER: And Miguel -- Miguel, hold on for a second, Miguel. I want our viewers to hear what they are chanting right now. Let's listen in briefly.
MARQUEZ: -- the president the satisfaction of knowing that they're -- that they're upset with him. But there is great, great anger and upset in this -- in this area today. Let's just listen to this commotion here.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Turn your back and follow the march.
MARQUEZ: So it appeared to me that the president actually moved off in a different direction, and this was an ancillary unit that was moving down this way. But just thousands of people in Squirrel Hill, registering their upset and concern with the president being here, feeling that it just brings the wrong message -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Miguel is there in the midst of those protests. And clearly, the president has gone in a different direction. We're not exactly clear where the president and first lady have moved. But they clearly are going in a different direction. We're going to get back to you, Miguel.
Kaitlan, you're still with us. You're over there at the Tree of Life Synagogue where the president and first lady -- the president's daughter, Ivanka, and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, they were paying their respects, together with the treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, and others. And they were received by the rabbi there, Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, who yesterday said, of course, he would have -- he would welcome the president of the United States. Even though this is a day where we saw the first three funerals of those who were mass murdered on Saturday morning.
[17:15:17] COLLINS: That's right, Wolf. And that was a lot of the reason that had to do with the mayor of Pittsburgh saying he didn't feel this was the appropriate time for the president to come.
Logistically speaking, he thought it was going to be a headache. Because not only were they going to have to have officers here to handle the president's visit, but also, as you noted, there are those funerals that started today, and they've got to guard those, as well.
Now, a fear was that there would be protests, people protesting the president's visit. And, of course, as you just saw from Miguel, there are some of those forming in the blocks around the synagogue where the president was just here. So that was one thing.
A third issue that they brought up to me earlier while we were standing out here speaking with people, is they were concerned it would impede the families that are traveling in to be with their loved ones in this time. They thought it was going to create a lot of logistical headaches. That was one reason for that.
But we did see the president come here. They paid their respects. They went inside. They lit a candle. Then they came outside. As you noted, they laid those stones at these stars, one star for all of the 11 people who died here on Saturday.
And now they are expected to go somewhere else. Because they're slated to be here for about three to four hours, roughly, in the city of Pittsburgh, before departing and the president going back to Washington tonight.
Now Wolf, we don't know where exactly it is the president is going, but we do know that he expressed interest in going to one of those hospitals to visit with the first responders, to visit with some of those police officers who were shot here on Saturday, when they went into this building while there was still an active shooter inside. That person who is the suspect of killing these 11 people.
Those are people that are really -- we've been talking to several people in the community today, and they've been praising those police officers for their bravery of going inside, knowing there was an active shooter in there with the people who were in here just worshipping. We spoke with the police chief earlier today, who was doing an
interview. He came by, as well, just to check on the area. And he said he really wanted to get his officers all out of the hospital. And that he would feel a lot better when he did.
Now, knowing this president, knowing what he's done on past trips similar to this, he's gone and met with the officers, met with the first responders. And that's been a big priority of his, and that's what we can only expect him to do here today, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. We're showing our viewers some pictures also of when the president and first lady walked into the synagogue to pay their respects to the 11 people who were murdered on Saturday morning.
I want to go back to Miguel Marquez. He's over there where the protests are taking place right now.
Miguel, that's only about a block or so away, you told us, earlier. What's going on now? I understand they're singing?
MARQUEZ: They are singing. This is something they've been doing all day. I just want to show you the numbers. I mean, it is just -- it is impressively shocking how many people have turned out.
This was not planned at all 24 hours ago, and now there are several thousand people in this neighborhood.
This is where the synagogue is, over in this direction. I just wanted to show you. There was one arrest here that we saw as the president was leaving. There was a rush, or a bit of a knot of some protesters who tried to move toward the synagogue and see what was happening down there. We're only about a block away from Tree of Life Synagogue here.
And they -- you know, they clearly wanted to see what was happening down there, because they could hear all of the members of the Secret Service and police moving on.
I want to give you a bit of sense of what's happening here and some of the signs and listen to some of the singing that's happening here. This is what has been happening for most of the afternoon.
MARQUEZ: Several different messages here. Certainly, love over hate is the biggest message that they wanted to send. But everything from support for immigrants, concern about the rhetoric from the president and his supporters, particularly with regard to the caravan. And many people that just will come up to me and say he is indirectly responsible for what happened at this synagogue.
So there has been nothing but sadness on the streets of Squirrel Hill today. People walking their dogs, crying on the streets here. People walking, just having a walk and in tears everywhere. That has turned to real anger as the president has gotten here. He is certainly not welcome in this neighborhood. And it is -- it is shocking to see that a president, who is meant to be the consoler-in-chief would be received in this way -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. So they're singing right now; they're protesting. Only a block or so away from where the president and the first lady were just moments ago at the Tree of Life Synagogue.
[17:20:03] Kaitlan -- I want to go back to Kaitlan. Kaitlan, I understand you know now where the president's next stop in Pittsburgh is taking place.
COLLINS: That's right, Wolf. They are at the UPMC hospital nearby. The White House says that's because there's still one police officer who is in ICU there, one of the police officers who was shot here on Saturday that we were just talking about. And one other individual still in the hospital, as well. It's unclear who that individual is, if it's someone who was just simply inside the synagogue on Saturday when this shooting occurred. But that is who the president is going to meet with now.
He and the first lady, Melania Trump, who you just saw leave the synagogue, have arrived there. And the White House says it's going to update us a little bit later on about who exactly it is that the president is meeting with while at this hospital. But we know that he said he wanted to meet with some of the police officers who had been involved in this on Saturday; and that is what he's likely doing now, as well as meeting with some of the other first responders who were also involved here on Saturday, Wolf.
BLITZER: It's a moment that a lot of people will certainly never forget, especially where you are right now, Squirrel Hill, in that beautiful neighborhood in Pittsburgh where the Tree of Life Synagogue is located. It's the heart -- the heart of the Jewish community, a very tightknit, cohesive, loving Jewish community. And so many of these people, all of them, I venture --
BLITZER: -- to say were clearly stunned. Stunned. They couldn't believe what was happening on Saturday morning when this killer simply walked into the synagogue, the doors wide open, walked into a synagogue with an AR-15 assault rifle and three pistols and began killing people.
All right. Stand by, Kaitlan. Miguel Marquez is in the middle of the protests over there. We have a lot more. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.
[17:26:20] BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. You're looking at live pictures coming in now from the University Of Pittsburgh Medical Center, where President Trump is meeting with three police officers wounded during last weekend's massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. The massacre left 11 people dead.
The president is meeting with three wounded police officers, one of whom is still in intensive -- in the intensive care unit. Two have been discharged.
Earlier, the president visited the synagogue itself in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh.
Joining us now, the Pittsburgh city councilman, Corey O'Connor.
Councilman, thanks so much for joining us. Give us a sense of what the mood is on this day, the first three funerals taking place of those wonderful people who were massacred Saturday morning, simply as they were praying.
COREY O'CONNOR, PITTSBURGH CITY COUNCILMAN: It's a very somber time to be in our community right now. We've lost loved ones. We've lost friends. We've lost family members. And it's really been a difficult couple days. But the strength of this community, the diversity of this community, has really shown in an on-pouring -- outpouring, I should say, of love from across the neighborhood and across the city of Pittsburgh.
BLITZER: You know this neighborhood in Squirrel Hill in Pittsburgh well. Tell us a little bit more about the community there.
O'CONNOR: Yes, I was born and raised a couple blocks from here. It is a melting pot. We have one of the most diverse neighborhoods you can imagine. We have people from different ethnicities, races, religions, different backgrounds, all coming to Squirrel Hill and being a part of this community.
We have, from the location I'm standing in, we have about 15 religious organizations. We have about ten synagogues within a couple of blocks.
Our main business district is right behind me. And every Friday and Saturday night, you see hundreds and hundreds of people walking to synagogue, walking to our business district. And it's really shocking to us at this point.
BLITZER: I understand, Councilman, you met with some of the family members of the victims today before the funeral services. What was that like?
O'CONNOR: It was very sad. You know, we went to the synagogue where the two brothers were taking visitors, their family. And our firefighters, the two brothers always wanted to be firefighters. And our firefighters gave them a great honor, had badges, gave them uniforms. And it was really touching to see our service officers come together for this family today and across -- throughout the weekend.
BLITZER: You know, it's interesting that not too far away from the synagogue, there are a lot of protesters who have gathered right now. They're not very happy that the president has come to your beautiful city. What's your reaction when you see this?
O'CONNOR: I actually started -- before I came down here, I was with them at the start of their walk, and I'm going to meet them at the end of it. I think, you know, to their point, and to the city's point, we're sort
of saying now is not the time. You know, today we were grieving. We're going to be grieving for the next few weeks. And today wasn't a time to draw more national attention to us. We are a tough city. We are going to get through this. We're all going to battle together. And that's what Pittsburgh is all about. And we will get through this. But today was a difficult time for additional attention.
BLITZER: Councilman O'Connor, thank you so much for joining us. And our hearts -- our hearts go out to all of you in Pittsburgh. I know how awful this must be for all of you. Thank you so much.
O'CONNOR: Thank you very much.
BLITZER: All right. I want to go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, right now. He's over at the White House.
Jim, this visit to Pittsburgh is happening in the middle of a very significant and very controversial campaign effort under way by the president at the same time. Update us on that.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. The White House says President Trump is not on a political trip to Pittsburgh. He's simply there to offer his condolences to a grieving community. But as you saw over the last half hour, there is so much on display there in Pittsburgh.
But the president appears to be on a political mission everywhere else he goes, with the strategy of divide and conquer to come out on top in next week's midterm elections.
ACOSTA: Mr. President, any message for the people of Pittsburgh?
(voice-over): With the first lady at his side, President Trump traveled to Pittsburgh, a city in mourning, after the mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue. The city of Pittsburgh is split over Mr. Trump's presence, with some community leaders wishing he would stay home.
RICH FITZGERALD, ALLEGHENY COUNTY EXECUTIVE: We're trying to heal right now. And, yes, I think a later time would be better.
ACOSTA: While the synagogue's rabbi left his door open.
RABBI JEFFREY MYERS, TREE OF LIFE SYNAGOGUE: This is not about any one person. This is about hate, and that good must win.
ACOSTA: Mr. Trump is igniting passionate reactions to nearly every move he makes, in part because he's inflaming an already bitterly divided country.
Just one week before the midterms, the president is resurrecting a controversial proposal he's made before: to end birthright citizenship in the U.S., something he claims he can do with an executive order. DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It was always told
to me that you needed a constitutional amendment.
JONATHAN SWAN, AXIOS MEDIA: Right, 14th Amendment.
DONALD: Guess what? You don't.
ACOSTA: But he's wrong. The 14th Amendment to the Constitution guarantees citizenship to people born in the U.S. Presidential scholars and members of Congress from both parties agree, Mr. Trump would have to amend the Constitution.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE (via phone): Well, you obviously cannot do that. You cannot end birthright citizenship with an executive order.
ACOSTA: The citizenship issue is straight out of the president's midterm playbook to energize his base with racially-loaded rhetoric like his claim that the convoy of migrants, many of them women and children, heading for the border is an invasion, requiring a military response, when it doesn't.
REP. RYAN COSTELLO (R), PENNSYLVANIA: I don't know how much political calculus he's put into this. I think he thinks maybe there is. But my point is, I don't like it. I don't think it's effective. It's not good for our country.
ACOSTA: The president is also using questionable language in describing Florida's Democratic candidate for governor, Andrew Gillum.
TRUMP: Look, here's a guy that, in my opinion, is a stone-cold thief. He's a disaster.
ACOSTA: That followed a tweet from Mr. Trump that described Gillum's opponent as a Harvard, Yale-educated man.
Gillum fired back in a tweet of his own, saying, "I heard Trump ran home to FOX News to lie about me. But as my grandmother told me, never wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty, but the pig likes it."
The White House is scrambling to clean up after the president's remarks. Even Vice President Mike Pence tried to maintain that Mr. Trump respects the American press, despite dubbing some news outlets the enemy of the people.
MIKE PENCE (R), VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is a president who believes in freedom of the press. The president has complained, and it's often mischaracterized. Not by you. But -- the president says fake news is the problem. Not news.
ACOSTA: The question is whether any of this will have an impact on the midterms as Democrats are hopeful voters have grown weary of the president's rhetoric.
JOE BIDEN (D), FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am sick and tired of this administration. I'm sick and tired of what's going on. I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired. And I hope you are, too.
ACOSTA: Getting back to the president's attacks on the press, they also appear to be right out of the president's midterm playbook. A source close to the White House tells CNN inside and outside advisers are urging the president to keep on slamming the media right to the midterm elections, despite the pipe bombs that CNN received last week -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. Three of those packages came to CNN offices. Jim Acosta, thank you very much.
Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell of California. He's a member of both the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees.
Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: What do you think of the way -- the way the president has been dealing with all these crises over the past few days? Remember, we're a week away from the midterm elections.
SWALWELL: We need a consoler-in-chief right now. And I think back to the different presidents in my lifetime. Whether it was Reagan after Beirut, President Clinton after Oklahoma City, George Bush at September 11 or Barack Obama throughout all the mass shootings he dealt with. He brought -- they brought the country together.
And to see so many people protesting at a tragedy, it's heartbreaking. Because the office of consoler-in-chief is vacant right now in America. And I think the president, he certainly didn't send the bombs. He didn't fire the weapon that was used. But he's created a permissive environment in our country where he stokes hate, and it looks like it's inspiring individuals to carry out these deadly acts.
BLITZER: Do you think he's going to change? Or he's going to continue doing what he's been doing?
SWALWELL: He's not going to change. We have to change the people who hold him to account. And I think that starts with this midterm election. Because right now we've seen Republicans who are just all too willing to dismiss or say that they're disappointed in what the president has said but not willing at all to actually check him in the way they vote or the way that they are able to rein him in.
[17:35:18] BLITZER: His aides say, you know, that he really wanted to go to Pittsburgh to pay his respects. And they also point out, you know, if he wouldn't have gone, he would have been criticized. By going, he's being criticized. How do you balance that? He and his daughter and son-in-law and the first lady, they wanted to go and pay their respects.
SWALWELL: He was invited by Rabbi Myers. And I respect that. None of us can imagine the position that the rabbi was in, losing members of his synagogue.
But I hope the president heard the voices outside, as well, who didn't want him there or who wanted him to start to unite our country and change his rhetoric.
And, again, the fact that there's even a split on whether he should go or not shows that his tone is wrong. Because we've never seen any president be uninvited to a tragedy before, to help grieve with victims.
BLITZER: You heard Jim Acosta in his report say that his aides are telling -- telling him that the president is not going to change as far going after the news media. He sees that as a winning political issue, especially in energizing that Republican conservative base so close to the midterm elections. Branding the news media, at least large chunks of the news media, as the enemy of the people.
SWALWELL: The president wants to fight a culture war right now. He wants to blame the problems that people have in their lives on the media, on this dwindling caravan and now this birthright issue. When most people actually right now are thinking about their healthcare costs. Open enrollment starts in a few days. It's going up, and preexisting conditions may no longer be protected from something that you'd be charged more from.
They want to know that their paychecks are going to increase and that tax cuts won't go to the wealthiest. And they want to see corruption rooted out in Washington, something that the president promised but that has not happened.
So he wants to change the narrative, because the narrative right now with those issues, he's going to see a wipeout in Congress, if that's what voters are voting on.
BLITZER: It's a week from today. What's your analysis? What's your prediction?
SWALWELL: We're going to win back the House. And it's going to be because of those kitchen-table issues that people care about. And it's going to be on us now to make sure we collaborate with the president, where he's workable but hold him to account where the Republicans were completely unwilling.
BLITZER: If you do become the majority in the House of Representatives, you're on the Judiciary Committee. You're on the Intelligence Committee. You'll have subpoena power. What are you going to go after?
SWALWELL: Well, we're going to do the investigations that the Republicans were unwilling to do, whether it's filling in the gaps on his coordination with Russia during the 2016 campaign or looking at his cashing in on the Oval Office.
There was a new lawsuit that was dropped yesterday by serious litigators pursuing a class action, saying that the president defrauded millions of people. And so the corruption continues to stack up. But Republicans have
been unwilling to look at it.
And then, of course, we will finally see his tax returns. This journalist from the "Washington Post," who was murdered about a month ago now, we're starting to find out more and more about the president's financial interests in Saudi Arabia, which may explain why he's not willing to confront them. We will better understand the president's financial interests and how it influences policy.
BLITZER: Do you have any doubts once you have the subpoena power, assuming you become the majority in the House of Representatives, and right now that's still a big assumption. But let's say you do. Do you have any doubts you would be able to get his tax returns over the past, let's say, 20 years or so?
SWALWELL: By law, we'll be able to, and it won't even take a vote in the Congress. The chairperson of the Ways and Means Committee can request it.
BLITZER: And what if they -- what if they say, "You know what, it's private information. It's not going to be delivered"?
SWALWELL: Yes, well, he would be defying, of course, what presidents have done in the past, and that would go to the courts. And that's why who's on the court is so important. But the law is on our side.
But, again, this is -- we have to make sure whatever we do, the investigations we conduct are about the American people and the credibility of the office. We shouldn't just conduct investigations because we can. We should do it because we want to redeem the office of the presidency.
BLITZER: The special counsel, Robert Mueller, he's taken a very low profile lately as we get closer and closer to the midterm elections, which is clearly appropriate. What do you think he's up to?
SWALWELL: Well, he's working. He's bringing people before the grand jury, and in my experience as a former prosecutor, you don't put people in front of the grand jury unless you're marching towards indictments. So I would expect more indictments after the midterms.
But another thing that we can do in a new Congress and the majority would be to protect Bob Mueller. The Senate has already passed bipartisan legislation out of the Judiciary Committee. We should pass that out of the House and build momentum so that the special counsel role is protected.
BLITZER: Congressman Swalwell, thanks so much for coming in.
SWALWELL: My pleasure.
BLITZER: All right. We're going to continue our breaking news coverage. Much more right after this.
[17:44:32] BLITZER: We're following breaking news. Protests under way right now in Pittsburgh as President Trump and the first lady, as well as Jared and Ivanka Kushner, they're in Pittsburgh to pay their respects to victims of the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre.
The visit is notable for all the public officials who declined to be with the president or who criticized his ongoing attacks on immigrants, among other issues.
Let's bring in our analysts and talk about this. Susan Hennessey, what do you think -- what do you think of the reaction that's -- that we're eye-witnessing in Pittsburgh right now? A lot of people have gathered on the streets. They're not happy the president and first lady are there.
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think it does speak to sort of the remarkable divisiveness of this moment. Now, it's up to, you know, the congregants and the families of the victims whether or not they want to meet with the President. I don't think that's a decision that should be made by politicians.
Whenever the President makes these kinds of condolence visits, he's actually representing the entire nation, right? He's going to show that we are all grieving together with these people.
And it's really hard to reconcile the same president that the very night of these horrific murders occurred held a campaign rally, opened that campaign rally by joking about how, oh, he was thinking about canceling it because his hair got wet while he was standing outside talking to reporters. It's really hard to reconcile that person was somebody who is genuinely there to grieve and to comfort these individuals.
And I do think that one thing we can hope for is that maybe this visit actually will have an impact on the President himself. This will serve as a wake-up call as he actually confronts, you know, the very, very real consequences of the political climate that he himself has created.
BLITZER: Yes, this is the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in American history. Eleven people simply praying gunned down at a synagogue Saturday morning. How do you see it?
PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: The President should go. Let's take a step back. There are 11 dead people here. The President should celebrate lives and advise us and give us counsel, lead us forward on how we need to celebrate life tomorrow.
There are rules to that game, Wolf, and let me give you four or five of them. Don't use the word "I." Don't talk about Democrats. Don't talk about Republicans. Don't talk about guns. Don't talk about immigration. Don't talk about the media.
You want us to walk away and look at what the President says and not be able to determine whether a Democrat said it or Republican said it.
I think presidents, since the beginning of time, have a responsibility to be a consoler-in-chief. I think we need to step back today and take a deep breath, but that comes with a lot of rules. And those rules are to be respectful of those who lost.
And the final rule is, tomorrow, I want to wake up and say, I feel like a better person because of what the President said.
BLITZER: You know, Shawn, it is pretty extraordinary in the aftermath of an enormous massacre, a mass murder like this, for the President to go out and pay the respects, speak as the Commander-in-Chief, speak as the leader of the country, and to see so many political, local, state, national leaders saying, you know, we're not going along with you.
SHAWN TURNER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS, OFFICE OF THE DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Yes, you know, and I agree with Phil. The President should be there but, you know, Phil said what the rules are with regard to what you don't do.
The rule with regard to what you do is you talk about the victims. You focus on the families. The President really -- you know, he struggles to set a tone in this country with regard to, you know, empathy and dealing with these types of crises.
And I really think that this event should be an event where he should really dig down and listen to the people around him. The President struggles to do that, but he should listen to the people around him.
And he should find the courage to be able to put his own political ambitions aside and put the election aside and focus on these individuals who are suffering so dearly.
BLITZER: You know, Bianna, like for so many, this is very personal for you.
The shooter, the killer in this particular case, he made it clear he was going after HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which helps resettle, in the older days, mostly Jewish refugees in the United States; in more recent years, a lot of refugees in the United States.
And this hits home to you because of your family's experience and the help you received from HIAS.
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, I was surprised, Wolf, to see the attacker and the shooter go after HIAS, as it's referred to in the Russian community, because, as you said, it helped millions of Jewish refugees resettle around the world. In our case, in the United States.
And this was in 1980. We moved here when I was 18 months old. We were allowed to leave the Soviet Union with $75 each. It was myself and my parents. And HIAS paid for our plane tickets here. We immigrated to Galveston, Texas.
And I called HIAS because I was interested to see, you know, if they had any documentation. My parents didn't. And they were able to find our family record. As you can see there, that's my record. It's a digital record of when we moved here in May of 1980.
And I remember, every month, my parents would pay $20 back as much as they could. There you see pictures of me as a baby. But they would pay back as much as they could in their thanks and in their gratitude for bringing our family to the United States to start a new life here.
You won't find greater patriots than my mom and dad, I'll tell you that. And they're not the only ones. There are millions of others who went through the same opportunity and experience with HIAS.
And as you said, their initial focus was on the Russian and the Jewish refugee resettlement program. That mission, in large part, was accomplished. And instead of closing shop, they decided to expand to refugees from around the world.
And I guess that's why this deranged shooter was focusing on them in terms of maybe the caravan or refugees from Syria. But what this organization did was change lives and for the better and make millions of people proud Americans because of it.
[17:50:09] BLITZER: And HIAS helped so many Holocaust survivors right after World War II emigrate to the United States, to get resettled in the United States, doing a fabulous job for all of these people, including my parents as well. So I can testify -- I can attest to what you are saying.
It's amazing what's going on right now. People are just beginning, Susan, to appreciate the enormity of what has happened over the weekend.
HENNESSEY: Yes, I think it is. And remember, this is coming at sort of at the end of an already really, really difficult week, a week in which, you know, bombs were sent to Democratic politicians, to this very news organization, a week in which two African-Americans were killed in a grocery store for the color of their skin.
Sort of, you know, this was the ending of that week, this absolutely horrific, you know, the worst anti-Semitic attack we have seen in this nation's history.
And, you know, this is not -- you know, we've become so accustomed to these really rapidly changing news stories, right? Every single day brings something new and sort of pushes the last story out of the headlines.
And, you know, I think for a story like this, you know, it's going to linger. It's going to take a really long time for people to come to grips with what happened, to come to grips with what it means and what it means about the choices we have to make about how we're going to move forward as a country right now.
BLITZER: And you're the lawyer here. What do you make of this idea the President is throwing out that he is about to sign an executive order eliminating the 14th Amendment basically to the Constitution and saying that this birthright privilege, that if you're born in the United States, if your parents are undocumented immigrants or they're not U.S. citizens, you're not automatically a U.S. citizen?
HENNESSEY: Yes, I think this is a pretty clear attempt by the President to try and shift the conversation heading into the midterms back to his hardline stance on immigration.
From a legal standpoint, this is absurd, right? The 14th Amendment of the Constitution says if you are born in this country, you are a United States citizen. The Supreme Court has ruled again and again over a course of 200 years that that includes all immigrants, whether or not they are documented or otherwise.
Now, there is a very sort of fringe legal theory -- and it is a fringe legal theory that the vast majority of legal scholars do not believe this. There's a fringe theory that maybe Congress actually could pass a law consistent with the 14th Amendment that denied birthright citizenship to individuals whose parents were illegally in this country.
What President Trump is suggesting, though, is a million times more farfetched than that. He is suggesting that he could do this by executive order.
And that's sort of an idea that is so plainly wrong on its face, it really does make you have to wonder whether or not the President of the United States understands our basic constitutional structure, whether or not he understands the difference between an executive order, a piece of legislation, and a constitutional amendment.
TURNER: Despite the fact that it's so wrong --
GOLODRYGA: And, Wolf --
BLITZER: Yes, go ahead.
TURNER: Despite the fact that it's so wrong, what's really troubling about this is that there is a significant number of people out there who heard what the President said and who actually believed that this would be a good idea. There are people who believe that the President can actually do this.
BLITZER: With his base, this is very popular.
TURNER: This is very --
BLITZER: Especially a week before the election, it's going to generate a lot of support.
TURNER: Yes, absolutely. And what the President has to understand is that when you say things like this, when you put things like this out there in the ether, yes, it may get you a few votes, but what he is really doing is he's contributing to this very divisive rhetoric that we're experiencing in this country.
This is the kind of thing the President should know better than to do. And I really think this is one in which his legal team, all of the people around him, should come around and come together and say, it is time to cut it out.
BLITZER: Bianna, go ahead.
GOLODRYGA: Well, what's interesting about it is it does come across as sort of an act of desperation when this is a president who wasn't shy about touting the economy for two years now.
And there's good reason to. The economy continues to grow. We continue to add hundreds of thousands of jobs every month. Consumer confidence is up and business confidence is up, as well. There's NAFTA that he proudly reshaped.
And instead of focusing on the economy, there does seem to be this desperation at a time when the nation's not in a, at least, financial crisis. We are focusing on other issues like immigration and him talking about nationalism, but this is all coming from the President. I'm surprised to see him focusing on this and not the economy right now.
BLITZER: What about you, Phil?
MUDD: This is painful. I think we're confusing two questions. One is a legitimate difference between Democrats and Republicans on issues like deficit spending, on issues like how you fund the military, on issues even like immigration reform which the President has raised. I think it is a legitimate debate.
There's a more profound issue that goes beyond law and it goes beyond America, and that is what we are taught from when we were six years old -- love your neighbor. Unless your neighbor is an immigrant coming in.
We can expel immigrants but we should not denigrate them as people who are somehow an invading horde. They are not. Unless you talk about what happened with countries that you do not respect -- I won't use the President's word -- but these are people who have made this country great from day one.
[17:54:59] You can have legitimate policy debates about law, but you cannot have debates about how you characterize someone who is worse off than we are. Love your neighbor and never forget it. And I think we're losing sight of that in this country.
BLITZER: Everybody, standby. There's a lot more news that we're following. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Controversial visit. President Trump travels to Pittsburgh despite pleas to postpone the trip while the city reels from the synagogue massacre.
[17:59:58] Local officials are noticeably absent as the President visits the scene of the attack. Is he taking the focus off the victims?
Protesting the President.